Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gather Restaurant Continues Tradition of Excellence with a New Chef

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

A Michelin Bib Gourmand, Gather Restaurant in Berkeley firmly put itself on the culinary map since its opening a few years back with Executive Chef Sean Baker at the helm. Praised for its dedication to local producers and seasonal organic ingredients as well as for its creativity and special attention to vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free offerings, the popular venue on the corner of Allston and Oxford continues to attract nightly crowds with the recent appointment of Charis Wahl as the new Executive Chef. (Wahl was opening Sous Chef for Sean Baker who now leads the kitchen at Verbena – the sister restaurant in San Francisco).
A dinner at Gather might start with a glass of wine from a Featured Winery of the Week, or from an array of other California wineries on an extensive list, dedicated to using organic and biodynamic sustainable viticulture practices.

Or, it can start with artisanal locally brewed beer, a flavored soda from Shrub & Co. located in Berkeley, or with one of the house signature cocktails, like Northern Exposure (Bank Note scotch, Earl Grey-maple, citrus, egg white, bitters) and Lion’s Tail (Four Roses bourbon, allspice dram, gum syrup, citrus, bitters).

Freshly baked Acme levain bread, Sciabica’s Sevillano olive oil, and House Made Pickles & Ferments (vegan and gluten-free) served on a wooden cutting board are wonderful starters.
On the night we dined, the assortment of pickles included carrots with tarragon and garlic, cauliflower with curry and mustard seeds, red onions with chili de Arbol and mint, turnip, wonderfully flavorful kimchi, and positively nostalgic cucumber with garlic and dill.     

From Ranch & Sea sections of the menu we picked airy and crisp Pork Belly (pork being delivered from the famed Devil’s Gulch Ranch). The succulent meat with layers of good-for-you fat was served on a bed of lentils braised with pancetta, and garnished with pickled cucumber yogurt, whole grain mustard, watercress, and rye crisps.

Gather signature pizzas include a vegan option with cashew puree instead of cheese, but we picked Pork Sausage pizza baked in a wood-fired oven and topped with rapini, roasted potatoes and thyme over delectable leek cream sauce.  

All entrees are either vegan or gluten-free or both. Tender and silky Local Black Cod was a definite standout with a side of crispy broccoli di ciccio, celery root puree, fleshy maitake mushrooms and lemon juice.

A perennial hit – Roasted Half Chicken was first brined with garlic, olive oil, chili flakes, shallots, thyme, salt and pepper, and then slowly prepared sous vide, and finally roasted to achieve its incredible juiciness in dark- and white meat portions alike under the crispy skin. Garnished with buttermilk polenta, greens, Delicata squash and pickled red onion rings, it was one memorable dish – big enough for sharing and very satisfying.

The restaurant creates in-house desserts that include apple and Autumn Royal grape sorbet – low sugar freshly tasting delight with bright maroon color and distinct flavors of apples and grapes. Sprinkled with lemon verbena crumbs this is by far the best vegan and gluten-free sweet finale you can get.
The glorious history of Gather is described in The Source Book, available for your perusal upon request. Dozens of hard-working organic and sustainable local producers are listed on a four-page table of contents.

Gather Restaurant is located adjacent to the David Brower Center at 2200 Oxford Street, at the corner of Allston, in Berkeley, California. The restaurant is open daily, for dinner from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m., for weekday lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and for weekend brunch from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Call for reservations (510) 809-0400 or visit www.gatherrestaurant.com 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

SF Beer Week February 6 - 15, 2015

Photo reportage by Yuri and Emma Krasov


7th Annual San Francisco Bay Area's premier craft beer extravaganza returns with more than 600 events featuring the region's top craft breweries, celebrity chefs, acclaimed restaurants, beer bars, and retailers. At the press preview at ThirstyBear Brewing Company last week, well-established and newly open breweries presented their newest and boldest products.  

Since 2009, when the San Francisco Brewers Guild launched one of the country's first Beer Weeks, the event has evolved into a top international festival. SF Beer Week 2015 kicks-off the 10 days of festivities with its Opening Gala at the newly renovated Fort Mason Center, Herbst Pavilion on February 6. More than 2,500 craft beer enthusiasts will unite for the ultimate tasting celebration with more than 80 Northern California breweries. The confirmed list of breweries includes: 101 North Brewing Co., 21st Amendment Brewery, Ale Industries, Almanac Beer Co., Alpha Acid Brewing Company, Altamont Beer Works, Anchor Brewing, Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Auburn Alehouse, Baeltane Brewing, Barrel Head Brewhouse, Bartlett Hall, Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant, Bear Republic Brewing Company, Berryessa Brewing Company, Bison Brewing, Black Diamond Brewery, Calicraft Brewing Co., Campbell Brewing Company, Cellarmaker Brewing Company, Devil's Canyon Brewing Co., Discretion Brewing, Drake's Brewing Co., Eel River Brewing Company, El Toro Brewing Company, Elevation 66 Brewing Company, Faction Brewing Company, Fort Point Beer Company, Freewheel Brewing Company, Gordon Biersch Brewing Company, Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, Headlands Brewing Company, HenHouse Brewing, Heretic Brewing Company, Hermitage Brewing Company, High Water Brewing, Hop Dogma Brewing Company, Hoppy Brewing Company, Independent Brewing Company, Iron Springs Pub & Brewery, Knee Deep Brewing Company, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Linden Street Brewery, Lost Coast Brewery, Mad River Brewing Company, Magnolia Brewing Company, Marin Brewing Company, Mendocino Brewing Co., Moonlight Brewing Co., Moylan's Brewing Company, Napa Smith Brewery, North Coast Brewing, Pacific Coast Brewing Company, Palo Alto Brewing Company, Pine Street Brewery, Petaluma Hills Brewing Company, Pizza Orgasmica & Brewing Company, Rubicon Brewing Co., Ruhstaller, Russian River Brewing Company, San Francisco Brewing Company, Santa Clara Valley Brewing, Schubros Brewery, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Social Kitchen & Brewery, Sonoma Springs Brewing Co., Southern Pacific Brewing, Southpaw BBQ, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, St. Florian's Brewery, Strike Brewing Co., Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co, The Rare Barrel, Third Street Aleworks, ThirstyBear Organic Brewery, Track 7, Triple Rock Brewing Co., Triple Voodoo Brewery & Taproom, Trumer Brauerei, Uncommon Brewers, Woodfour Brewing Co., and WOODS Beer Co.

The San Francisco Brewers Guild have united once again to create a collaboration beer for SF Beer Week 2015. The beer will be brewed at Fort Point Beer Company and named Swept by Fire. The hoppy smoked pale ale is a tribute to San Francisco's brewing industry in 1906, which was decimated by the great earthquake and fire. The beer will be made with smoked beachwood malt and charred almond wood, roasted at the brewery, and balanced with hop flavors and aroma that verge on tropical fruit, citrus, and candy. Swept by Fire will be available at tons of events throughout SF Beer Week 2015.

The San Francisco Brewers Guild members: 21st Amendment Brewery, Almanac Beer Company, Anchor Brewing, Bartlett Hall, The Beach Chalet, Cellarmaker Brewing Company, Cerveceria de MateVeza, Fort Point Beer Company, Headlands Brewing Company, Magnolia Brewing, Pine Street Brewery, Pizza Orgasmica & Brewing Company, San Francisco Brewing Company, Social Kitchen & Brewery, Southern Pacific Brewing, Southpaw BBQ, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, ThirstyBear Brewing Company, and Triple Voodoo Brewing.

Triple Voodoo Brewery and Tap Room presents the following program:
Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. - Beer Dinner with Left Coast Catering
Feb. 9 at 3 p.m. - Bottle Release (Samurai Saison)
Feb. 10 at 6 p.m. - Yeast Flavor Profile Demonstration
Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. - Triple Voodoo 5th Anniversary Party
Feb. 12 at 3 p.m. - Beer/Cheese Pairing Event
Feb. 13 at 3 p.m. -  Collaboration Release with High Water
Feb. 15 at 12 p.m. - Beer Weed Decompression
For more information, visit: www.sfbrewersguild.org, www.sfbeerweek.org.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera in San Francisco August 19 – October 4

Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group’s spectacular new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera premieres in San Francisco at the SHN Orpheum Theatre later this year.  With newly reinvented staging and stunning scenic design, this new version of one of the most successful musicals of all time, will be performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, making this one of the largest productions on tour in North America. For more information on the production and a video sneak peek, visit www.ThePhantomOfTheOpera.com/USTour
This new production is directed by Laurence Connor (the 25th Anniversary production of Les Misérables now on Broadway) with choreography by Scott Ambler, set design by Paul Brown, Tony Award-winning original costume design by Maria Björnson, lighting design by Tony Award-winner Paule Constable, sound design by Mick Potter and musical supervision by John Rigby. The production is overseen by Matthew Bourne and Cameron Mackintosh.  Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics by Charles Hart (with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe), book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Based on the classic novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera tells the story of a masked figure who lurks beneath the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, exercising a reign of terror over all who inhabit it.  He falls madly in love with an innocent young soprano, Christine, and devotes himself to creating a new star by nurturing her extraordinary talents and by employing all of the devious methods at his command.
Official show site: www.ThePhantomOfTheOpera.com.
Performance Dates: August 19 – October 4, 2015. Tuesday–Saturday at 8pm, Saturday & Sunday at 2pm, Wednesday at 2pm (beginning September 2). Added Performances: Thursday, August 20 at 2pm, Sunday, August 23 and 30 at 7:30pm.
Ticket Information:
 Through www.shnsf.com and SHN Audience Services at 888-746-1799. Tickets $45-$210. Prices are subject to change.

Angela Lansbury in Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit Delights San Francisco Audiences

By Emma Krasov
It’s like a gift inside a gift. A ruby locket in a bejeweled treasure box. A Hollywood, Broadway, and television legend, multiple award-winner Dame Angela Lansbury shines on SHN Golden Gate Theatre stage in San Francisco among the stellar cast members in Noël Coward’s outrageous comedy Blithe Spirit directed by two-time Tony Award-winner Michael Blakemore.
Dame Angela’s Madame Arcati – a spiritual medium and a no-nonsense self-reliant business woman of a certain age – is fond of very dry martinis, Irving Berlin songs (especially “Always”) and of the ethereal apparitions she communicates with during her séances. She doesn’t hesitate to expose her clients’ subconscious desires that cause any trouble in the communication with the “other side,” or to cut off witty remarks and morbid jokes from random sceptics.
Tall, long-legged, aquamarine bright-eyed, and as charming, engaging, and mischievous as ever after more than 70 years of her illustrious acting career, Angela Lansbury is a true gem of this sparklingly-delightful production.

She is joined by Charles Edwards (Charles Condomine, a successful novelist) Susan Louise O’Connor (Edith – an otherworldly gifted maid), Charlotte Parry (Charles’s wife Ruth), Jemima Rooper (Charles’s deceased first wife, Elvira), Simon Jones (skeptical Dr. Bradman) and Sandra Shipley (Mrs. Bradman) in the elegant Condomine estate in Kent, England, where the things are going from supernatural to super hilarious bringing audiences to hysterical fits of laughter.   

Angela Lansbury won her fifth Tony Award in 2009 for Best Featured Actress in a Play for the role of Madame Arcati. She commented on the current revival that included sold-out engagements on Broadway and London’s West End, “During the course of my career, I’ve had the good fortune to play many, many unique and wonderful roles in the movies, on stage and television, and it is a joy to once again step into the role of Madame Arcati, and bring Noël Coward’s classic comedy ‘Blithe Spirit’ to wonderful audiences here in North America who have supported me for over seven decades.”
One of Noël Coward’s most acclaimed comedies, written, according to the author, in five days during a holiday, Blithe Spirit premiered on Broadway in 1941, the same year it was produced in London where it set box office records and was the longest running comedy (1,997 performances) for decades.  The original Broadway production played for almost two years.
The current SHN production includes scenic and costume designs by Helen Hayes Award-winner Simon Higlett; Ms. Lansbury’s costume designs by two-time Tony Award-winner Martin Pakledinaz and sound design by Olivier Award-winners Ben and Max Ringham. 
Blithe Spirit runs through February 1, 2015 at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre at 1 Taylor St., San Francisco. For more information, visit www.BlitheSpiritThePlay.com.
Images: courtesy SHN

Monday, January 12, 2015

Greater Palm Springs: Winter Mosaic

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

If there’s a better season than winter to experience California desert I’d like to hear about it… or better yet see it for myself. Meanwhile, when record freeze was bracing the American East and Midwest, and pouring rain (finally!) was falling all over the San Francisco Bay Area, the sun was shining brightly, and palm trees were gently swaying over blue pools in a charmed corner of the world known as Greater Palm Springs. 

It took us several hours in a problem-free Enterprise Rent-A-Car vehicle to get there from SF, and slightly over an hour to get back on Alaska Airlines uneventful flight for an exciting and relaxing winter break in the sun-drenched desert – alive and bustling with all kinds of vacation activities.

JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa

Located in Palm Desert, this aquatic oasis is designed to satisfy every whim of its guests so they would never want to venture beyond its 450-acre territory. Several eateries on the premises include the Lobby Bar and the Sushi Bar; Starbucks – also in the hotel lobby; voted “Best Seafood Restaurant” Fisherman’s Landing Market & Grill; and a few full-service restaurants on the shores of the resort’s own lagoon – poolside Oasis grill, waterfront Rockwood Grill, Blue Star Lounge, and Mikado, a Japanese steakhouse with teppanyaki dining. To get there, diners can board one of white-and-blue speedy boats that take passengers in the open-air lobby area and bring them back every 10 minutes. The lagoon, adorned with fountains and populated by black and white swans, geese, duck, carp, and pink flamingoes, stretches to the far reaches of the five heated pools and two 18-hole championship golf courses.

The Spa at Desert Springs offers wonderful massages, and has its own sunlit pool, its own café, steam rooms and saunas, a beauty salon, and an adjacent fully equipped gym, actually filled with health-conscious travelers.

A long chain of retail outlets with resort and gift wares stretches along the Colonnade of Shops, and even a contractor hawk trainer can be seen on the roof giving some practice exercises to his winged predator in-between guest-ordered lectures and demos.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway


No trip to the area is complete without a breathtaking ten-minute ride up the mountains on the world’s largest rotating tramcar to the Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The two Swiss-built glassed cabins carry 80 passengers at a time up Chino Canyon from the 2,643-foot Valley Station to the 8,516-foot Mountain Station, passing as many climatic zones along the way as are found on a long Pacific shore stretch from Mexico to Canada.   

At the top, where the temperature drops 20-40 degrees even in the middle of blazing-hot summer, the Mountain Station has Long Valley Deck surrounded by pines, covered with fresh snow in wintertime; Desert View Terrace with views of rugged mountains and a forest of windmills on the valley floor; an exhibition of flora and fauna indigenous to the area; a visitor center with park information and trail maps; a movie theater showing a documentary about the building of the Tramway in incredibly harsh conditions, and new tromp l’oeil murals by the local artist Keith Blum.

There are also Peaks Restaurant and Pines Café at the Mountain Station, now led by the new chef Kevin Land. Food stuffs are delivered to the top on the “first tram” early in the morning, before the crowds flock in, and water – in a special reservoir under the passenger cabin. Reportedly, some dishes have to be prepared in the valley and taken here, since the lower-oxygen mountainous conditions change the way food is being cooked and especially baked. 

Desert Hills Premium Outlets


The little town of Cabazon can get really overpopulated with eager shopper battalions arriving by car and bus in great numbers, especially during the winter holiday season. Every- or almost every imaginable international brand has a factory outlet here, and tourists from as close as Los Angeles and as far as the Peoples’ Republic of China take full advantage of it. In the frenzy of gift shopping at the lit with myriads of Christmas lights East Village and West Village with a combined collection of 180 designer and name brand stores, the shoppers make a quick stop at Blaze Pizza, where the new speedy method of combining thin crust with a choice of sauce and toppings reduces lunch time to mere minutes.  

The Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert

Free to the public thanks to Helene Galen grant, the museum features comprehensive permanent and traveling exhibitions of painting, sculpture, photography, art glass, architecture and design, and a beautiful meditative Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden open all year round.  

Shields Date Garden

This unique “all about dates” farm and shop in the town of Indio features an incredible amount of date samples, recipes, and packaged varieties, plus a 1950s film “Romance and Sex Life of a Date.” Founded in 1924 by a husband and wife team of a mechanical engineer and a teacher from back East, Shields Date Garden is still producing those sweet hard-to-grow fruits, and is famous for date shakes, date ice cream, and fragrant citrus. Mr. Shields was the inventor of date sugar and the date crystal. Date sugar adds flavor to recipes and date crystals are a dry blend of dates used in cooking, on cold cereals and in date milkshakes. The Coachella Valley produces 90% of the dates in North America.

Cathedral City


In the Center of Coachella Valley, the tiny, neat and trip Cathedral City has a remarkable Town Square with an elaborately sculpted and adorned with glass mosaic pieces Fountain of Life, symbolically depicting blooming palm trees surrounded by desert animals. Right next to it, there is Mary Pickford Theater – home to a small museum displaying personal belonging, some costumes, and two documentaries of “the girl with the golden curls” considered the most famous and beloved woman in the world in the silent film era. Equal in her international fame to Charlie Chaplin, the hard-working comedienne starred in 50-80 moving pictures a year, until the talkies which she contemptuously compared to lipstick on Venus de Milo ultimately ended her brilliant career.

Joshua Tree National Park


The true treasure of the California, Joshua Tree National Park lies in the overlap between the Colorado and Mojave deserts and stretches over 794 000 acres. The eastern half of the park is dominated by cholla cactus, palo verde, and ocotillo, while the western half contains forests of whimsically twisted Joshua tree amid giant smooth boulder stacks – the result of prehistoric volcanic activity in the area.     

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs


One of the newest hotels in the city center, Hard Rock is filled with rock musicians’ instruments, stage costumes, amplifiers, and other paraphernalia, and features over-the-top décor in the designer lobby, pool area, and in every room, each marked by a dedicated album from a legendary group.   

Sparrows Lodge
This brand new hotel, built to resemble a 1950s lodge, has only 20 rooms that surround a swimming pool with a hot tub and a fireplace. The rooms have cement walls with pebble trim, and a slate rock shower area with rough lead piping. Folding leather chairs and wooden tables constitute room furnishings, and the “papa bear” rustic beds are covered with Salvation Army-style thin blankets. There’s a cozy couch in front of a fireplace in the entrance area, and at the opposite end of the swimming pool that takes the center stage on the property – a breakfast nook and a bar with enough space for guests and their dogs in this pet-friendly establishment. 

Balisage Bistro 


Just a hidden gem of a family-run good food/good wine/great service little restaurant with Spanish- Mediterranean menu and a cozy homey feel.
Greater Palm Springs Visitor Information 1-800-969-3767; www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com